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Home Video Releases for December 1999 - Nitrate Online Store

Home Video Releases for February 2000
Posted 4 February 2000

by Eddie Cockrell

Nitrate Online explores a sampling of the most noteworthy, provocative and satisfying video and/or DVD releases for the month of February (give or take a few weeks). Titles are followed by original country and year of release, as well as release date (if known). Street dates change constantly and often differ from format to format, so check with your favorite online or brick-and-mortar supplier for up-to-date information.


The Astronaut’s Wife (USA, 1999, February 8)

Big Brass Ring - Nitrate Online Store
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Bats (USA, 1999, February 22) Bowfinger - Nitrate Online Store
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Best Laid Plans (USA, 1999, February 22) Best Laid Plans - Nitrate Online Store
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The Best Man (USA, 1999, February 29) The Best Man - Nitrate Online Store
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Blue Streak (USA, 1999, February 8)

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Breakfast of Champions (USA, 1998, February 15)

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Brokedown Palace (USA, 1999, February 15)

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Chill Factor (USA, 1999, February 1)

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Double Jeopardy (USA, 1999, February 22)

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In Too Deep (USA, 1999, February 15)

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Love Stinks (USA, 1999, February 1) Love Stinks - Nitrate Online Store
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The Muse (USA, 1999, February 15) The Muse - Nitrate Online Store
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Random Hearts (USA, 1999, February 29) Random Hearts - Nitrate Online Store
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Stigmata (USA, 1999, February 29) Stigmata - Nitrate Online Store
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Stir of Echoes (USA, 1999, February 1) Stir of Echoes - Nitrate Online Store
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The Story of Us (USA, 1999, February 15) The Story of Us - Nitrate Online Store
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Tarzan (USA, 1999, February 1) Tarzan - Nitrate Online Store
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Trick (USA, 1999, February 8) Trick - Nitrate Online Store
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The Winslow Boy (USA, 1999, February 1) The Winslow Boy - Nitrate Online Store
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Beyond the A-list:

All of Them Witches (Sobrenatural, Mexico, 1995, February 29)
Between Pancho Villa and a Naked Woman (Entre Pancho Villa y una mujer desnuda, Mexico, 1995, February 29)

“Sex eradicates the violence we carry in our blood,” says Lola/Dolores, the clueless heroine of All of Them Witches, and that’s about as close as this stylish but distinctly un-thrilling supernatural thriller comes to making any sense. Taking its English title -- as well as much of its thematic inspiration -- from Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby but in fact playing more like Repulsion on downers, Witches tells of a Lolita-ish young wife (Susana Zabaleta) and her slooooow realization that her sinister husband Andres (Alejandro Tommasi) is keeping her cooped up in the Dakota-like block of flats for a fiendish reason. The eye-candy look, sound and SFX earned the picture Silver Ariels (Mexico’s Oscar) for cinematography, sound and special effects, but only the most undiscerning horror fan will be able to endure until the nifty climax, which features a demon that looks like recording artist Seal in a really bad mood. Decidedly more congenial is Between Pancho Villa and a Naked Woman, a zesty sex slapstick that copped the audience award at the Guadalajara Film Festival. Writer Gina is having trouble with her academic boyfriend Adrian, who advises her not to “confuse history with hysteria.” Exasperated, she takes a younger lover, only to find Adrian invoking the spirit of the fiery leader in his crusade to win her back (Jesus Ochoa zesty performance as Villa earned him Mexico’s version of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar). These are two of the five recent Mexican features to be released February 29 under the banner “New Mexican Cinema” by Chicago-based Facets Video, in conjunction with the Chicago Latino Film Festival. Bringing to 20 the total number of recent Latin American features available on home video in the United States, the best thing about this series -- and, in fact, the some 250 movies from around the world available exclusively from Facets -- is the snapshot of various international film industries they afford beyond the trickle of art-house titles that make it to the local American multiplex. Next month: reviews of Salon Mexico and Return to Sender (Sin remitente).

All of Them 
Pancho Villa 
and a 
Naked Woman

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An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island (USA, 2000, February 15)

Steven Spielberg is apparently long-gone from the animated franchise about a Jewish mouse and his adventures in Russia and America, An American Tail, which he first brought to respected animator Don Bluth in 1987 (the equally successful Fievel Goes West followed in 1991). In his wake comes the third installment of the saga, An American Tail: The Treasure of Manhattan Island, a perfectly serviceable but decidedly perfunctory straight-to-video release (with a 1998 copyright) that continues the ethnically muddy but emotionally beguiling story of Fievel and his discoveries of injustice and tolerance. With the Mousekewitz family newly settled in turn-of-the-century New York, Fievel embarks on a subterranean adventure that finds him discovering a secret civilization of Native American mice. There’s a great temptation to be cynical when confronted with material such as this, which purports to educate while it entertains but depends more on the kind of stereotyping it cautions against than any specific mention of ethnic heritage or pride (“Papa, why did we leave Russia?” asks young Fievel. “We were going to be eaten, you need a better reason?” is the reply; well, yes, maybe we do). The animation is a rung or so above Saturday morning, while the three anthemic, relentlessly upbeat new songs (little is left of James Horner’s original score) are highlighted by William Anderson’s bad-guy softshoe “Friends of the Working Mice.” Celebrity voices include Lacey Chabert, David Carradine, Nehemiah Persoff, Ron Perlman, Rene Auberjonois and Dom DeLuise, returning as the amiably huge cat Tiger (who at one point says he’s “thinking of converting”). While a suitably diverting 78 minutes for the kids, adults who want to watch and laugh along with the little ones are advised to get a few “Pinky & the Brain” episodes instead: now they’re funny.

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The Brandon Teena Story (USA, 1998, January 25)

It probably isn’t a coincidence that the award-winning 1998 documentary on which last year’s over-praised Amerindie drama Boys Don’t Cry is based comes out on video exactly when Academy voters are filling out their ballots for this year’s Oscar race -- and Hilary Swank’s performance as the young Nebraskan who was born female but yearns to be a man is considered by some a shoo-in for a Best Actress nod (Chloe Sevigny is much more deserving of a Best Supporting Actress nom as her clueless girlfriend). Steeped in sadness and ignorance, this true-life story is as much about the repressive narrow-mindedness of a rural community as it is the story of one transgendered person whose struggle with her own emotions ran smack into the anger of those who believed that she “fooled” them maliciously. Raped by two local men who had been among her circle of friends and subsequently killed by them to silence her accusations (two innocent bystanders were also executed in the bloodbath), Teena Brandon (born Brandon Teena) is set up as a martyr, but the film does a nice job of balancing the fervor of the cause she represents with a warts-and-all look at the community in which she lived (including an infuriatingly insensitive sheriff) and the people she moved among (one of whom, apparently in all seriousness, refers to the electric chair as “ol’ sparky”). Unfortunately, the paucity of actual visual material relating to the story forces filmmakers Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir to resort to seemingly endless tracking shots of snow-mottled plains (as an analogy for the pace of life it nearly sinks the film), and the schmaltzy popular tunes used to punctuate the tale give the proceedings an irony that provokes as many giggles as thoughts. Nevertheless, the cumulative effect is powerful: as Teena’s best girlfriend and her killer’s sister share a threadbare stage to perform a karaoke version of Lorrie Morgan’s “If You Came Back to Heaven,” a local social worker sums up the thrust of the film -- and the reaction of many audiences to it -- by ruefully observing that “we as a culture haven’t come to terms with our responsibilities.” 

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Frozen (Jidu hanleng, China/Hong Kong, 1997, February 22)

Frozen is a passionate cry for artistic freedom from a culture of repression: since July 1, 1996, it has been illegal to make unauthorized independent films in China, and the rushes from this surreptitiously filmed feature (shot in 1994) were smuggled out of the country and assembled by director Wu Ming with support provided by the Hubert Bals fund in Holland. Never heard of Wu Ming? That’s according to plan; it’s a pseudonym meaning “no name” that has been adopted by the established Sixth Generation filmmaker to avoid reprisals (“I have responsibilities,” the director explained to a western critic in 1997). A brooding, handsome performance artist prominent in the avant garde scene of contemporary Beijing, Qi Lei (Jia Hongshen) decides to create four performances over the next year, symbolic suicides to mark the equinoxes. All will be faked save the final “ice burial” on the first day of summer, during which the increasingly depressed Qi Lei intends to die. Reactions vary, from the despondency of his girlfriend Shao Yun (Ma Xiaquing) to the tart disapproval of his sister (Bai Yu) and the opportunism of his wisecracking brother-in-law (Li Geng). Only Qi Leng’s mentor, the art critic Lau Ling (Zhang Yongning) -- Shao Yun’s ex-lover -- seems at peace with the decision. Frozen leavens its message with jagged flashes of social humor, often at the expense of Qui Lei’s colleagues Long Haired Guy (Wei Ye) and Bald Guy (Bai Yefu). Even the title carries a double meaning -- cultural stagnation leads to personal tragedy -- that serves to enhance the deadly serious message of this singular film.

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Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King (USA, 1992, February 1)

Like a bolt from the blue, this remarkably clear-eyed and affectionate documentary -- among the most positive, informative and helpful films on contemporary American independent music -- burst forth from the market section at the Berlin International Film Festival, packing out its few screening and sending a buzz through the international movie elite. What’s the fuss about? Jad and David Fair, brothers from Uniontown, Maryland, who formed the self-taught band Half Japanese in 1975 and have gone on to garner critical raves and summon the spirit of such disparate musical influences as the Velvet Underground, the Modern Lovers, MC5, the Residents, the Shaggs, The Stooges and the Monkees. As much the chronicle of a movement as the growth of a band, the film takes the viewer from the early days of limited edition cassettes to their current place in the pantheon of little-known but highly influential American bands (“You sound just like Jad Fair,” a German fan tells Jad Fair after a gig, unaware that he is in fact Jad Fair). On-screen performances include “Calling All Girls,” “Thing With a Hook,” “Magic Kingdom,” VU’s “I Heard Her Call My Name” (with former Velvet Mo Tucker on drums), “Roman Candles” and many others (the day-and-date DVD includes seven concert performances and various clips and interviews). Highlights of the film itself include the brothers performing “In the Midnight Hour” at a nursing home, a chat with their parents (“when the boys practiced our dogs hid under the couch,” says mom Ann), and Penn Jillette (president of their label, 50 Skidillion Watts Records) relating the story of how the great album Charmed Life was finally released. David Fair, who left the band in 1986 to marry his high school sweetheart, earnestly says “we always played the best we could,” but somebody else nails it by observing that Half Japanese teaches while everyone else is still learning. Fans and newcomers alike will learn a great deal from director Jeff Feurzig’s invigorating, invaluable film, making a belated but entirely welcome debut on home video.

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Hangmen Also Die! (USA, 1943, January 18)

Made by Fritz Lang (Metropolis) just prior to his landmark Hollywood picture Ministry of Fear, Hangmen Also Die! was co-scripted by Bertolt Brecht and left-wing American scribe John Wexley (who ended up with sole screen credit, leading to a rift between Lang and Brecht). A dramatized account of the 1942 assassination of Nazi Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich in Prague and the subsequent search for his killers (and persecution of the citizenry), the picture asks an audience to believe Brian Donlevy and Walter Brennan as Czechs but overcomes the absurd casting via a persuasive blend of Brechtian themes and Langian imagery. Thus, the movie climaxes with the courageous underground movement fooling the evil occupiers into accepting a sympathizer to their cause as a suspect, and the screeching Nazis found in most propagandistic Hollywood fare of the period are tempered by sly supporting performances such as Alexander Granach’s sordid, finger-snapping German detective. The DVD is crisp and atmospheric, highlighting James Wong Howe’s expressionistic lighting scheme (and, unfortunately, the stylized but less than convincing backlot sets). Along with Anthony Mann’s Railroaded (1947) and Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker (1953) a part of Kino Video’s new “Noir: The Dark Side of Hollywood” series, Hangmen Also Die! is a fascinating chapter in the history of German expatriates in Tinseltown and the uneasy but never less than riveting intersection between social substance and commercial style.

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It Happened Here (United Kingdom, 1966, February 15)
Winstanley (United Kingdom, 1975, February 15)

In the annals of film restoration and the do-it-yourself filmmaking ethic, the latter so rare when the technical process of moviemaking was more cumbersome than it is today, the name Kevin Brownlow is liable to provoke either puzzled stars or rapturous recognition -- and nothing in between. Best known as the mastermind behind the restorations of Abel Gance’s Napoleon (which he first saw a clip of as a boy of 11), the director of incisive documentaries on Buster Keaton (among others; see also below) and the author of the silent film histories The Parade’s Gone By and Hollywood: The Pioneers, Brownlow began It Happened Here in 1956 at the age of 18 but didn’t finish it until 1964. The low-budget fictionalized account of what Britain might’ve been like if the Nazis had won World War II (stylistically it looks a lot like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead -- which was made at the end of the 1960s), Here and his 1975 follow-up, the historical drama Winstanley (both co-directed with Andrew Mollo, a history buff who came to Brownlow’s attention when he complained about historical inaccuracies in early footage of the first film), have been unavailable in any format for years. Now, Milestone Film & Video presents superlative video versions of each title (tacked on to the end of Winstanley is a 40-minute documentary on the Brownlow/Mollo collaboration). Both titles are highly recommended, particularly for young filmmakers looking for enduring examples of doing more with less. Milestone Film & Video has a number of new releases this month, and information on their entire catalogue is available by calling 1.800.603.1104 or e-mailing them at

It Happened

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The Art of Buster Keaton (USA, 1919-1926, January 11)

An essential part of any serious collector’s comedy archives, The Art of Buster Keaton is a nine-DVD collection (available as individual titles only, each with a couple of shorts) of the Great Stone Face’s greatest work  -- 30 individual films in all. Raised in vaudeville by a father who taught him that comic value of impassiveness, the sheer physicality of Keaton’s subsequent work is not only free of the cloying sentimentality that has dated Charlie Chaplin’s best movies but can actually be quite arbitrarily violent. Thus, the world around his hapless characters is so cruel that his very survival is a source of audience celebration. And those stunts: fleeing from the rockslide in Seven Chances, having a house fall on him not once but twice during the jaw-dropping hurricane climax of Steamboat Bill Jr. (a gag later repeated by Jackie Chan), and the intricately choreographed chase scenes in The General (which consistently finishes near the top of international critics’ lists selecting the greatest films of all time) are just a few of the nearly constant high points of these remarkably fresh and absorbing films. The January 11 releases, with shorts in parentheses, include the original inspiration for that recent, awful Chris O’Donnell vehicle The Bachelor, Seven Chances (Neighbors, The Balloonatic), College (The Blacksmith, The Electric House and Hard Luck), and The Saphead (The High Sign, One Week). Also worth tracking down is the 1987 three-part British TV documentary on Keaton’s life and work, “Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow,” by Kevin Brownlow  (see It Happened Here, above) and David Gill. “This fellow Keaton seems to be the whole show,” someone remarks during the dazzling 1921 short The Playhouse, in which the comic plays every single member of a stage company as well as the entire audience. As these invaluable new releases attest, he sure was.

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Late Last Night (USA, 1999, January 25)

Every so often one of those direct-to-video titles proves to be a keeper, and such is the case with this guilty pleasure out of left field from director Steven Brill, a writer and bit player who created the Mighty Ducks franchise (the movies, not the hockey team) and is currently helming the new Adam Sandler movie Little Nicky. Emilio Estevez plays a Century City entertainment lawyer, chucked out of his Beverly Hills home by his wife, who embarks on a nocturnal, drug-drenched adventure through yuletide Hollywood with a devil-may-care pal (Steven Weber, finally coming within hailing distance of his potential as an enabling comic lecher in the spirit of, say, Robert Morse in Gene Kelly’s frighteningly tasteless 1967 comedy A Guide for the Married Man) who may or may not be a figment of the attorney’s overwrought imagination. The two actors have a crazed, nervous energy together, invoking the spirit of Estevez’ landmark comedy Repo Man (has it really been 16 years?) while balancing Weber’s worldly irony with Estevez’ appealing bewilderment. High points include the duo’s impromptu falsetto with a drug dealer on Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.’s “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)” and Weber’s abrupt and showstopping version of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” in an after-hours club (the patrons even join in on a dance number). The production benefits from the edgy music of Pray for Rain and Eliot Rocket’s sharp photography. Like the drunk Santa staggering through a subway station, Late Last Night brings a hard jolt of reality to the sentimental and familiar -- “underneath Disneyland,” Weber’s character calls it.

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My Son the Fanatic (United Kingdom, 1998, January 25)

The latest character driven, working-class culture clash from the pen of Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid), My Son the Fanatic reteams director Udayan Prasad and actor Om Puri after their much moodier 1996 drama Brothers in Trouble for a complex, leisurely but ultimately satisfyingly unresolved tale -- from a short story! -- of generational and societal conflict in contemporary London. Parvez (Om Puri) is a Pakistani cabbie whose driving duties vie for time with his increasingly successful but profoundly unsettling work providing the local prostitutes with rides, dates and counsel. These tasks become even more difficult when Parvez begins to recognize feelings between himself and Bettina (Rachel Griffiths, from Hilary and Jackie). With the arrival of astonishingly insensitive German businessman (Stellan Skarsgard) and the refusal of his son to go along with the marriage arranged by Parvez -- preferring instead to throw his lot in with a fundamentalist group. The budding relationship between Parvez and Bettina is the heart of the picture, and both Om Puri and Griffiths are terrific. Yet if anything too ambitious, the film struggles mightily to keep its equilibrium and momentum whenever the story veers to one of its many other subplots (although Skarsgard is, as usual, fiercely believable as the hard-partying German). As a final note for trivia buffs, the movie looks to have been shot in the same row house in which the action of Brothers in Trouble takes place.

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Nosferatu (Germany, 1922, February 1)
Nosferatu the Vampire (Germany, 1979, January 19, 1999)

Correctly hailed as the first and perhaps the best version of Bram Stoker’s landmark horror classic “Dracula,” F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu was in fact an unauthorized adaptation of the book. The resulting lawsuits resulted in the attempted destruction of the film, which explains the dupey, truncated versions which have been available over the years. Kino Video’s new release of this pivotal work goes a long way towards rectifying that situation, restoring the film to a full 84 minutes, adding the color tints and presenting it with Timothy Howard’s near-perfect organ score. Watch it for the historical importance, as Murnau took the Expressionist movement outdoors and thus heightened the feeling of otherworldly dread. Watch it for the intriguing tweaks to the story, as Van Helsing’s character is minimized in favor of Orlok’s hold over the beautiful Ellen. But most of all, watch it for Max Schreck’s astonishingly contemporary performance as the demonic count, a repulsive creature with none of the suave dignity of Bela Lugosi’s later interpretation. Also of recent vintage is a welcome restoration of Werner Herzog’s 1979 German remake, a somnambulistic, faithful (not shot-for-shot, as some have written) telling that has its own peculiar charms -- not the least of which are the eerie physical similarities between Isabelle Adjani’s wide-eyed Ellen and the wan dessication of  Klaus Kinski’s Orlok (“That unspeakable creature, which suffers in full awareness of its existence,” as the actor himself describes the count in one of the few passages from his indescribably priapic 1991 memoir “Kinski Uncut” that doesn’t involve sex). The creepy climax, in which the town is overrun by rats and madmen, retains a genuinely unsettling power. Murnau’s Nosferatu is out on tape and DVD under the Kino Video imprint, while Herzog’s version was restored and re-released by Anchor Bay Entertainment. Both are available in a variety of formats (don’t fear the dubbed version of Herzog’s film, as it actually contributes to the stylized apprehension of the story).

Nosferatu Nosferatu
the Vampire

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The Ogre (Der Unhold, Germany/France/United Kingdom, 1996, February 22)

An unspeakable creature of an entirely different kind -- or is he?­­ -- is limned by John Malkovich in The Ogre, a glossy, atmospheric but inevitably predictable 1996 European co-production from director Volker Schlondorff. As right at home as he’s been in the handful of overseas productions he’s in which he’s starred throughout his intriguing career, Malkovich manages to convey a brutish intensity as Abel, a naïve mechanic who becomes a fascist pawn as World War II dawns. Sort of a cross between the mythical Golem and Forrest Gump, Abel and his story (performed in English) aren’t without a certain amount of creepy appeal. And Bruno de Keyzer’s gorgeous lensing on Norwegian, Polish and German locations causes the film (particularly in the DVD format) to jump from the screen. Yet the sum of the parts is oddly perfunctory, perhaps a function of the movie’s Europudding backing or maybe just due to the fact that it’s Schlondorff’s first production since 1991. The Ogre is one of five titles being released by Kino Video on the above date under the general heading of “Cult Auteurs.” Other films in the series include Derek Jarman’s The Tempest (the DVD of which includes a number of his early short films), Jan Svankmajer’s brilliant Conspirators of Pleasure, and two tapes from The Brothers Quay (one a collection of their distinctive short works and the other their sole feature to date, Institute Benjamenta). Check your local dealer for information on available formats or visit Kino Video online at

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People of the Wind (USA, 1976, February 15)

In documentary filmmaking, patience is a virtue, as the creative team interested in capturing the veracity of the moment must wait for that moment to unfold and be there to film it. One is reminded of this early in the dramatic and beautiful People of the Wind, imagining the challenges that faced director Anthony Howarth, cinematographer Mike Dodds and their crew as they labor to chronicle the harrowing annual Bakhtiari migration across the Zagros Mountains in southwestern Iran. The film is told from the point of view of Jafar Qoli, the Kalantar, or chief, of the Babadi, one of many tribes that make the arduous trek. Although there are some subtitles in the film, the bulk of the narrative was assembled by writer David Koff and spoken by James Mason, and seems to be culled from the leader’s musings as well as reaction to the often dramatic footage of river fordings and mountain scalings (like any other leader, this Kalantar’s daily schedule involves events from petty to urgent). The only discordant note here is the original music by G.T. Moore and co-producer(s) Shusha, a busy, heavy-handed fusion fiasco that couldn’t be more unsuited to the unvarnished human struggle on view (the regional songs are much more appropriate). The film lost out to Barbara Kopple’s popular favorite Harlan County U.S.A. in the Best Documentary Oscar sweepstakes in 1976, which may explain its belated video debut. The latest title in their Age of Exploration series, Milestone Film & Video’s fine letterboxed transfer from the original 35mm negative is a perfect companion piece to another title in their catalogue, Grass, the pre-King Kong 1925 documentary by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack that covers a similar trek 50 years prior to Howarth’s visit.

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Silent Shakespeare (United Kingdom/USA/Italy, 1899-1911, February 15)

Another new release from Milestone Film & Video, Silent Shakespeare is a collection of seven short silent films made from Shakespeare’s plays in Britain, America and Italy between 1899 and 1911. Obviously lacking the texts of the Bard’s work, works succeed on their visuals alone, offering charming, priceless documents of acting styles of the day performed by some legendary figures of the theater. Thus, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree is seen as King John (Britain, 1899), while Italy’s Francesca Bertini shines in King Lear and The Merchant of Venice (both produced in Italy in 1910). Rounding out the program is The Tempest (Britain, 1908), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (USA, 1909), Twelfth Night (USA, 1910) and that 1911 British version of Richard III recently unearthed to much fanfare. Laura Rossi’s whimsical music perfectly underscores the cinematic adventurousness of these invaluable films. As with all of Milestone’s releases, the tapes are refreshingly devoid of pre-movie trailer clutter, product tie-ins and promotions.

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The Swindle (Rien ne va plus, France, 1997, 101 February 8)

Claude Chabrol’s 50th film finds the auteur who rose to prominence during the French New Wave in fine form, telling the elegant, mischevious and confounding story of mysteriously related petty grifters Betty (Isabelle Huppert) and Victor (Michel Serrault), and their adventures with larcenous executive Maurice (Francois Cluzet) and the Tosca-loving mobster he crosses. As the schemers move from France to the Swiss Alps to the Caribbean, questions of how this trio of ne’er-do-wells is related take a back seat to who, precisely, is doing what to whom. Huppert’s chameleon-like performance is based on “the rich and multi-layered relationship” between actress and director, while crafty vet Serrault (La Cage aux Folles, Dr. Petiot, Nelly and Mr. Arnaud) is the very soul of fussiness and Cluzet (who co-starred with Serrault in Chabrol’s 1982 The Hatter’s Ghost) is a suitably nerdy foil. Full of what the maker of The Butcher, Story of Women and La Ceremonie describes as “plenty of little details and vague references to past films for the loyal few who want to have a good laugh finding them,” The Swindle is vintage Chabrol. A New Yorker Video release.

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Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl (USA/China, 1998, February 1)

"Twin Peaks" star Joan Chen makes a revelatory directorial debut with this singular, brave drama. As the Cultural Revolution waned, millions of Chinese were sent from the cities to the country for re-education through labor. One such Educated Youth is Xiu Xiu (charismatic newcomer Lu Lu, aka Li Xiaolu), who forms a bond of sorts with taciturn, castrated herdsman Lao Jin (Tibetan-born Lopsang) -- only to slowly realize that she's been forgotten in the grasslands and is being cruelly used by a series of petty officials. Shot independently on the spectacular plains of the Sichuan-Tibetan border, Xiu Xiu in fact flies an American flag, as the sexually-charged theme (source novella title "Tian Yu" means "Heavenly Bath") might never have been cleared by Beijing. With freedom comes power: a stirring tale of the devastation governments can wreak on lives and one woman's defiance, Xiu Xiu is nothing short of remarkable. Available in both a video and bare-bones DVD edition.

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